A new report from Forrester on the future of customer experience, or CX, says significant changes are coming, including digital intermediaries between customers and brands and the use of neuroscience and anthropology to get into consumers’ heads.
There are two main drivers: The first is a plateau in the ability of CX to drive financial results, which is in part because of increased customer expectations; the second is the ineffectiveness of existing loyalty programs.
“The programs aren’t giving better experiences—they’re offering some minor discounts that aren’t influencing customer behavior,” said Rick Parrish, vice president and principal analyst serving customer experience professionals at Forrester, of the latter. “The people who enroll in these programs are to a degree raising their hands and saying, ‘I want you to know me, my behavior and my preferences. I want you to know that because I am a frequent customer, I want you to curate a personalized experience for me,’ but hardly anybody does that.”
Here’s how companies of the future will optimize their CX.
1. Personal digital twins
In the next few years, customers will start to design and control their own ecosystems ruled by personal digital twins, or algorithms owned by consumers that serve their best interests instead of companies’ best interests. These personal digital twins, or PDTs, will stand at the gateway to the ecosystems “placing a protective layer between the human being and the digital world,” the report added.
According to Parrish, these algorithms are one of the technologies that will start empowering customers, who can use their PDTs to find options for whatever they’re looking for, such as planning a vacation.
“The PDT does all the work with companies and pulls back to the person what are the best solutions,” Parrish said. “It’s going to be very personalized, very individualized, because what you want when you go on vacation might be very different from what I want. Your PDT will know that and work for you and mine works for me.”
In addition, consumers will welcome just a few companies “they trust to be stewards of their data and filter preferences and experiences geared to them,” the report said.
“Think of it as an evolution of the folks who go all in on the Apple ecosystem and have everything Apple,” Parrish added.
That means brands have to interact not just with consumers, but with PDTs. It also means the companies within these ecosystems will become more powerful, but it also puts pressure on them to sustain access to PDT-governed ecosystems.
And because PDTs will do the heavy lifting and customers aren’t dealing directly with companies in the discovery phase, there’s risk of a disconnect. The consumer isn’t going to see how good an experience is because they aren’t dealing with the brand at the beginning, Parrish said.
2. Humanly personalized experiences
Future experiences will be designed for actual human beings using neuroscience and anthropology to create what Forrester called “humanly personalized experiences.”
Instead of using data about preferences and behaviors to customize digital interactions, it will become more about understanding what makes each individual tick, Parrish said.
“It’s going to be a much more deliberate process to use research to create experiences that are not just personalized, but personable,” he added. “I live in Southwest Virginia. There’s no algorithm in the world to create a personalized experience that will call me darling, but when I walk into my local diner, they call me darling and I like that.”
But there are major ethical implications in using anthropology and neuroscience to give customers what they want before they know they want it.
“Companies are going to be faced with more and more very serious moral dilemmas—just because their powers to potentially manipulate will grow and they are faced with more frequent but also more profound moral dilemmas,” Parrish added.
As a result, the report said companies will have to hire ethicists to govern what is allowable and consistent within a given brand.
3. Experiences that reflect the way customers shop
Companies will also begin integrating physical and digital design around what customers are trying to accomplish.
“When companies talk about customer experience, they think about it in a channel-by-channel basis, but not how customers think about it,” Parrish said. “What was the last experience you had with brand X? Maybe it was as simple as, ‘I bought a shirt, I used a website and then I went to a store and used the app and talked to an employee.’ There are multiple channels—that’s always been the way it is, but the big emerging frontier is technology and changing business processes are allowing companies to pull this together into a much more integrated whole.”
Meanwhile, research shows consumers are even willing to pay more for a better experience.
“We spend our lives interacting with brands and … when people have better experience that is easier, more effective and more emotionally satisfying, it makes their lives better and they are willing to pay for that,” Parrish added. “Even if you’re walking away with the same widget, the experience is better and that part of your life is better now.”